Rumpole and the Primrose Path by John Mortimer
Rating: ••• (Recommended)
Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com
The latest collection of stories about the famed Horace Rumpole has arrived from John Mortimer, titled, Rumpole and the Primrose Path. The Primrose Path refers to the nursing home where Rumpole has been recuperating from the heart attack referenced in the preceding collection, Rumpole Rests His Case. Readers will be thrilled to know that Rumpole leaves the Primrose Path quickly and returns to clients and courtrooms. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story titled, “Rumpole and the New Year’s Resolution,” (pp. 38-41):
‘Offer her your seat, Rumpole.’ These were the instructions of my wife Hilda, known to me only as She Who Must Be Obeyed. ‘Have you forgotten your New Year’s resolution?’
‘It’s only New Year’s Eve,’ I complained. We were on a crowded tube train on our way south of the river. ‘The resolutions don’t come into force until tomorrow.’ I was rather fond of my seat. Seats were in short supply and I had laid claim to mine as soon as we got on.
‘You’d better start now and get into practice. Go over and offer that woman your seat.’
The woman in question seemed to be surrounded by as many children as the one who lived in a shoe. There were perhaps a dozen or more, scattered about the carriage, laughing, shouting, quarrelling, reluctantly sharing sweets, bombarding her for more as she hung to a strap. They were of assorted sexes and colours, mainly in the ten-to-thirteen-year-old bracket. I thought she might have been a schoolteacher taking them to some improving play or concert. But as I approached her I got a whiff of a perfume that seemed, even to my untutored nose, an expensive luxury for a schoolteacher. Another noticeable thing about her was a white lock, a straight line like a dove’s feather across black hair. She was also, and I thought this unusual, wearing gloves of a colour to match her suit.
‘Excuse me.’ The train had picked up speed and gave a sudden lurch which, although I had my feet planted firmly apart, almost toppled me. I put out a hand and grabbed an arm clothed in soft velvet.
The woman was engaged in urgent conversation with a small boy, who, while asking her whether they were getting out at the next station, seemed to be offering her something, perhaps some sort of note or message, which she took from him with a smile. Then she turned to me with an expression of amused concern. ‘I say,’ she said, ‘are you all right?’
‘I’m not doing badly,’ I reassured her, ‘but I just wanted to make sure you were all right.’
‘Yes, of course I am. But shouldn’t you sit down?’
‘No, no.’ I felt the situation sliding out of control. ‘Shouldn’t you sit down?’ Her smile was about to turn into laughter. ‘I’ve come to offer you my seat.’
‘Please don’t! Why don’t you go back and sit on it? Your need is obviously far greater than mine. Anyway, we’re all getting out at the Oval.’
It was an embarrassing moment. I knew how Saint George might have felt if, when he was about to release the beautiful princess, she’d told him to go home and that she was far happier tied up to a tree with the dragon.
‘Your first gentlemanly act, Rumpole,’ Hilda was unforgiving when I returned to my seat, ‘and you couldn’t pull it off.’
We climbed up from the bowels of the earth into the moderately fresh air of fashionable Kennington. The street was full on New Year’s Eve, crowded with faces lit by the strip lights in front of betting shops and pizza parlours. Collars were turned up and hands deep in pockets on a cold end to the year during which I had undergone a near-death experience. This had led to my return to Chambers and solving — a certain sign that a full complement of marbles had been returned to me -- the complicated mystery of the Primrose Path.
the corner of the street, where Luci Gribble, the
Chambers’ new Director of Marketing and Administration, was giving the New
Year’s Eve party to which we had been invited, I saw, in a dark doorway,
somebody sleeping. This in itself was no surprise. In enough
Of course I stopped, of course I told Hilda we should do something. But, again of course, like all the passers-by on that cold New Year’s evening, we did nothing.
‘We don’t know the full story, Rumpole.’ She Who Must was happily free from doubt. ‘He’s probably with someone. Perhaps they’re coming back for him.’
‘Coming back from where?’ I asked her.
‘I’m sure I don’t know. How can we know the whole history of everyone who’s sheltering in a doorway? Now, are we going to this party we’ve come all this way for, or aren’t we?’
I don’t blame Hilda in the least for this. I blame myself for going on, down the dark street of small, Victorian houses, to Luci’s party, while the picture of the pale boy sleeping curled round a stray dog was left hanging in my mind.
It was still there when I stood leaning against the wall in Luci Gribble’s flat, trying to balance a glass of Carafino red on a plate of cold cuts and potato salad and doing my best to eat and drink. I was in a room from which most of the seating had been removed, to be replaced by as many of our Marketing and Administration Director’s close personal friends as might have filled up the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Rumpoie and the New Year’s Resolutions
was just looking for a seat,’ I appealed to Luci as
she loomed up from the throng. She came resplendent in some sort of luminous
jacket, and her surprisingly deep voice was cut across, as always, by the
fresh breeze of a
‘I don’t want people sitting down, Rumpole,’ she told me. I want them standing up, so they can meet each other, form new relationships and network. I asked our Chair,’ she looked round at the sea of chattering, chomping and eagerly swilling faces, ‘but he hasn’t come.’ By ‘Chair’ I suspected she meant our Head of Chambers, Soapy Sam Ballard. ‘I don’t expect his wife wanted to let him out, even though it is New Year’s Eve.’
Soapy Sam had married the matron at the Old Bailey, a determined woman who, after long years of handing out Elastoplasts to defendants who had bumped their heads against cell walls and Aspirin tablets to barristers with piercing headaches brought about by acute anxiety and too many bottles of Pommeroy’s plonk, had retired from the dispensary.
‘You brought your wife, didn’t you, Horace? I expect she’s more tolerant and broad-minded than Sam’s, isn’t she?’
I was still doing my best to apply the adjectives ‘tolerant’ and ‘broad-minded’ to She Who Must Be Obeyed when Luci gave me another culture shock.
‘No doubt Sam’s wife keeps him on a pretty short lead. After all, he is extremely attractive physically, isn’t he?’
Luci might be, I thought, a wizard at Marketing and Administration, but her powers of observation seemed, in this instance, somewhat flawed. ‘You’re speaking, are you,’ I checked carefully, ‘of Samuel Ballard, QC, leading light of the Lawyers as Christians Society? The man who is seriously concerned at the number of teaspoons of instant coffee our junior clerk uses per cup?’
Readers who have missed Horace and others will be pleased that his recovery has proceeded well, and that we can expect more stories to come. In the meantime, read Rumpole and the Primrose Path and enjoy every page.
Steve Hopkins, February 23, 2004
ă 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the March 2004 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Rumpole and the Primrose Path.htm
For Reprint Permission, Contact:
Hopkins & Company, LLC •